BBC Weather

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BBC Weather
Department of the BBC
Industry Media
Headquarters Broadcasting House,
Central London
, United Kingdom
Area served
Specific services for United Kingdom and rest of world
Services Radio, Internet and television broadcasts
Owner BBC

BBC Weather is the BBC's department in charge of preparing and broadcasting weather forecasts and is now part of BBC News. The broadcast meteorologists are employed by the Met Office.[1] The longest-serving BBC weather forecaster is Michael Fish, who appeared for 36 years between 1974 and 2010 and still occasionally forecasts for South East Today.

On 23 August 2015, the BBC announced that the Met Office will lose its contract as the BBC is legally obliged to ensure that licence fee payers get the best value for money. MeteoGroup will take over in 2017,[2] although the on air presenting team is not expected to change, and Met Office severe weather warnings will continue to be used by BBC Weather.[3]


Early history[edit]

George Cowling (above) presented the first in-vision forecast on 11 January 1954.

The first BBC weather forecast was a shipping forecast broadcast on the radio on behalf of the Met Office on 14 November 1922, and the first daily weather forecast was broadcast on 26 March 1923.

In 1936, the BBC experimented with the world's first televised weather maps, which was brought into practice in 1949 after World War II. The map filled the entire screen, with an off-screen announcer reading the next day's weather.

Advancement of technology[edit]

On 11 January 1954, the first in-vision weather forecast was broadcast, presented by George Cowling. In an in-vision the narrator stands in front of the map. At that point, the maps were drawn by hand in the London Weather Centre, before being couriered across London.[4][5] The forecasts were presented by the same person who had composed them, and had relatively low accuracy. The London Weather Centre which opened in 1959 took the responsibility for the national radio weather broadcasts. Radio forecasters were chosen by a BBC audition from the forecasters at the London Weather Centre.[5][6]

In 1962, the installation of a fax machine and an electronic computer in the Met Office led to more accurate and quicker forecasting.

Satellite photography was available from 1964, but was of a poor quality and was given on paper, with the coastline etched in felt-tip pen. This did not change until 1973 with the installation of a new computer, increasing processing power of the Weather Centre greatly, leading to forecasts twice as accurate as earlier ones.

Graphical technology[edit]

Michael Fish presents a weather forecast in 1974.

As computational capability improved, so did graphics technology. Early hand-drawn maps gave way to magnetic symbols, which in turn gave way to bluescreen (CSO) computer-generated imagery technology, each of which allowed the presenter greater control over the information displayed.

Early magnetic symbols tended to adhere poorly to the maps, and occasional spelling errors (such as the presenter writing 'GOF' instead of 'FOG') marred some broadcasts, but allowed the presenter to show how weather would change over time. The symbols were designed to be 'self-explicit', allowing the viewer to understand the map without a key or legend.

These were phased out in 1985 for computer graphics, although the basic design of symbols was kept the same. These forecasts were widely acclaimed for their simplicity, winning an award from the Royal Television Society in 1993.[7]

On 2 October 2000 BBC Weather underwent a more significant change. Whilst there was not much change to the existing weather symbols new symbols giving information Pollen and Sun levels were introduced. A new more detailed map of Britain was used based on satellite data.

Great Storm of 1987 controversy[edit]

Possibly the most famous of the forecasters is the now semi-retired Michael Fish. Famous for his informal manner and eccentric dress sense (he once wore a blue and green blazer emblazoned with all the weather symbols), he was a viewer favourite despite an unfortunate comment before the Great Storm of 1987.

During a weather forecast some hours before the storm, Michael Fish started his forecast with the now infamous line "Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't". Although he was factually correct, as it is impossible for a proper hurricane to reach the UK latitudes, and he was actually referring to a Florida hurricane (Floyd); and he went on to accurately forecast stormy conditions over the South of England, the statement has gone down in popular culture as one of the worst mistakes made so publicly.[8]


A 2013 weather forecast from New Broadcasting House

The weather symbols were replaced in May 2005 after 29 years and 9 months on air by a controversial format as the forecast underwent another redesign, with the flat map replaced by a 3D globe, and weather conditions shown by coloured areas. Cloud cover is indicated by the brightness of the map, while rain and snow are indicated by animated blue and white areas respectively.[9]

The graphics are provided by Weatherscape XT, which was developed by the commercial arm of the New Zealand Metservice.[10]

The move polarised opinion; some saw it as more accurate and modern, while others disliked the brown colour chosen for the landmass and the presumed high cost of the graphics. The angling of the map, in order to show the curvature of the Earth, led to Scotland appearing little larger than Devon, and Shetland being almost invisible while exaggerating London and the South East. This led to many Scottish commentators accusing the BBC of having a London bias. As a result, the map was realigned, and the moving tour of the UK was lengthened.

The new look won a prestigious Silver Award at the Promax/BDA Awards in 2006.[11] Criticism has continued, however, with some viewers complaining about the colour scheme, and of a lack of detail in the forecast about weather developments beyond 36 hours.

There have been continuous developments since May 2005. In 2006, a rippling effect was introduced to define seas and oceans.[12]

Competitive tendering of BBC weather service[edit]

In 2015, it was leaked that the Met Office had been left out of the final phase of bidding for the supply of BBC Weather forecasts for TV, radio and the BBC website.[13] MetraWeather the international brand of the Meteorological service of New Zealand (who've supplied the BBC graphics since 2005) and MeteoGroup were named as the two preferred services in competition to take over in 2016.[13] The BBC will still broadcast warnings from the Met Office National Severe Weather Warning Service and Shipping Forecast issued on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.[13][14]

National forecasters[edit]



Online forecasts[edit]

The BBC Weather website provides outlook weather forecasts for UK and international locations using animated symbols and a format similar in design to that used for the televised broadcasts. The website launched in 1997.

The website also runs frequent special features about seasonal sports, White Christmas, nature and meteorological science. It also has world weather, UK outlook and weather news.

BBC Weather apps[edit]

On 20 May 2013 the BBC released the BBC Weather App for both iOS devices (although initially not optimised for iPad)[15] and Android devices (via the Google Play Store).[16] Both versions were designed by Media Applications Technologies and their data source was the Met Office.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Met Office: Job vacancy - Broadcast Meteorologist Met Office
  2. ^ "BBC weather service replaces Met Office with private company MeteoGroup after 94-year spell". 17 August 2016. Retrieved 19 August 2016. 
  3. ^ "Met Office loses BBC weather forecasting contract". BBC News. BBC. 23 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  4. ^ BBC - Weather - A history of TV weather forecasts BBC Weather
  5. ^ a b Hunt, Roger, "The end of weather forecasting at Met Office London", Weather, June 2007, v.62, no.6, pp.143-146
  6. ^ "Radio Weather Forecasts", BBC.
  7. ^ BBC - Weather - Weather Graphics over the years BBC Weather
  8. ^ The BBC Weather Forecast - The Weather - Icons of England Icons of England
  9. ^ BBC Weather goes 3D Lucy Sheriff, The Register. 23 August 2004
  10. ^ "BBC Launches New Weather Format Using NZ Technology". Metservice. 14 May 2005. Retrieved 2 June 2008. 
  11. ^ Graphic Design Industry Awards :: BAFTA, RTS, BDA awards for TV Graphics :: Mike Afford Media Mike Afford Media
  12. ^ Weather Graphics :: BBC Weather Maps, symbols, outlook icons :: Mike Afford Media Mike Afford Media
  13. ^ a b c Cookson, Clive; Mance, Henry (24 August 2015). "Met Office eyes legal action over BBC tendering decision". Financial Times. Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  14. ^ Boland, Stephanie. "What's going on with the BBC and the Met Office?". Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  15. ^ "BBC Weather". iTunes Store. BBC. 20 May 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "BBC Weather". Google Play. BBC. 20 May 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  17. ^ Howell, Liz (Head of BBC Weather) (19 June 2013). "BBC News - Introducing the new BBC Weather mobile apps". BBC News. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]